I’ve mentioned before that I sing with a symphony chorus.
Oh. How. I. Love. It.
As we navigated the program this weekend in two Christmas performances, I became aware of the memories the songs evoke.
When the symphony warms up, I’m back sitting in a Broadway theatre in New York City, and the orchestra warming up means something wonderful is about to happen. Maybe I’m there during one of those November trips as a department store buyer. It’s just before Thanksgiving and the city is already decorated for Christmas. Perhaps, when I leave that evening, there’ll be wet sloppy snowflakes the size of small cookies that splatter on my face. I won’t mind a bit.
“Silver Bells” puts me with my little sister in the backseat of a blue Ford Falcon and my daddy is at the wheel. We’re sailing down Peachtree Street after our family’s recent move to Atlanta. We’re agog to see the city lights like the small town hicks that we are. Daddy makes a turn, and we move down Ponce De Leon past the behemoth Sears store where I’ll make some Christmas memories in the years ahead. Then a little further, he shows us his office on Ponce. Christmas in the city, for sure.
During “Sleigh Ride,” I’m not on a sleigh but a piano bench as a high school chorus accompanist. I have performance anxiety before the big Christmas concert, and I think I might die and roll right off the bench into the first row of the audience, but somehow, by the grace of God, I make it through without causing a train wreck. Maybe loving playing “Sleigh Ride” so much is one of the reasons I do.
Our “Christmas on Broadway” piece includes a Sound of Music snippet, the one about favorite things. I’m eleven years old and I’ve just gotten my mitts on a copy of the score of a wonderful musical I’d just seen. I play it from front to back so many times the pages have to be taped back together and the edges become tattered, cause when life hands you things much, much worse than dogs biting or bees stinging, music helps you survive and remember there’s still wonder in the world.
“O Holy Night” places me at the piano in the little church I grew up in. “O Holy Night” is a favorite, but I’ve become the church pianist at twelve years old, and I struggle to play it. All those triplets, you know. And why, oh why is my only copy in the key of D flat? Where is the internet when you need it, so I could please find it in another key, maybe C? When we leave after the Christmas service, someone will hand me a brown paper bag. Inside will be an orange, nuts, and a large candy cane. Somehow, all those triplets won’t matter anymore.
During “Silent Night,” I’m leading worship in a women’s maximum-security prison. I tell them that in our church Christmas Eve service, we always light candles during this song, and I know we don’t have candles here, but we can imagine, so let’s hold up our imaginary flames high to the Lord. So we sing, “Silent night, holy night, all is calm, all is bright . . . “ and I look up to see hundreds of tear streaked faces lifting imaginary flickering candles high in worship. These women are shut off from family and friends, but they know God is with them. I can almost see the light reflected in their faces.
The concert always end with a sing-along piece, which includes classic hymns. And honestly, they are every Christmas of my life. I have a million memories to accompany them. But this time, I am at home after the Christmas Eve lessons and carol service with those I love so much. We have lit the candles of hope, love, joy, and peace on the Advent wreath and it’s just family celebrating this Holy time. I want to press pause on the moment.
This year, I made a new memory. In a side exit aisle, obscured from all but a few of us in the chorus, a mother held her toddler. During Tchaikovsky’s Waltz of the Flowers, they began to twirl and dance, on and on in their own little private ballet until the final beat of music. And oh, the joy of seeing them.
In case you missed it, I do love singing with the chorus. Friends, may you sing this Christmas, too, despite loss, pain, grief (I am grieving the loss of my dad so hard), sickness, financial woes, or whatever else. May you sing from the joy of His great love. And may that joy sustain you in the days ahead.
And in the words we chorused from Dickens’ character, Tiny Tim, “God bless us every one.”
Related: Raw Edges and Emmanuel , If You're Playing to an Empty Balcony, Every Shining Christmas, and if you need a laugh right now, A Ringing Bell Night Before Christmas ( I have no idea who wrote this).
For your Christmas list, please consider fine art prints or notecards from my Etsy Shop, Beverly Varnado Art or my books Home to Currahee or Give My Love to the Chestnut Trees.